A rant by me…
When I was a kid I wanted everything to be black and white. I painted my room walls in tones of black and white, I had sort of a modern look going with a black Ikea book shelf, a white architects drawing table and a black bean bag chair tucked neatly in the corner. I wanted everything to be clear and balanced. Ansel Adams photography, Ruth Price paintings and track and field, are all examples of black and white. Light and shadows, good and evil, win or lose.
I hated gymnastics when it got competitive because there was always a panel of judges staring you down and basing their score on how you looked. Maybe it's just me, but I think we live in a very judgemental society as it is, career choice, what you wear, how much money you make, who your friends are, what coffee you drink, where you travel, what you read, who you listen to and what you climb. There is always someone who wants to judge you and speak out. Life is never black and white. It's grey.
So I quit gymnastics, I didn't want to get judged any more than I had to. The same thing occured to me with climbing grades, they're grey too, (or gray depending on how you choose to spell it) and grey is great. Grey is any shade between black and white, a neutral color, a natural color. In the color wheel if you combine two complementary colors (ones directly opposite of each other) you get grey.
As a 16 year old kid I wanted to see how I was climbing, I wanted to judge myself. I wanted to know if I was climbing 5.10a or 5.10b and later 5.13a or 5.13b. Slash grades bothered me. "Well" I said in my high pitched crackly voice, "Am I climbing 5.13b or not?" At the time, I wanted validation, I needed the credit for my crappy resume, how else would Arcteryx decide what chalk bag to give me that year, the TEAM bag or just a consumer bag? If it was a slash, I would always cave and give it the highest number. I mean if it was 5.12c, why does it say 5.12c/d in the guidebook? Or why did I hear someone say around the campfire that so and so thought it felt a tad reachy? It's obviously harder than that so me and my obssessive disorder shall take that big D and have myself a refreshing brew. For those of you in the know, this is clearly a waste of time and energy. Who gives a flying rats ass anyway? I mean in the end, when the fat lady sings, will anyone care? Anyone? Anyone?
Chris Sharma realized this years ago when he stopped grading things, it also upped his profile. When he neglected to grade something, the media snatched it up for full value, they'd declare it the WORLDS HARDEST and so the marketing began. Joe Kindner has also followed his heart, on his new 5.14c/d, saying that Sharma and those Spanish climbers would probably do it second try and call it 5.14b, but for him it was 5.14c/d. So we all have our perspective and that is what matters, it takes strength to have a point of view and stick to it, even when your mates are all pointing and laughing after you stick clipped the fifth bolt on your project. Climbing is all about how you feel inside.
So, in the last 6 years of my life I have felt a serious shift, I not only accept slash grades, I prefer them. I prefer calling something d/a – a/b – b/c – or c/d. Or even better 5.13- or 5.13+. This has done two very wonderful things for me, one, I stopped comparing my own efforts to others, (e.g. he's taller, lighter, stronger, and can really pull off those lycra shorts, and she's shorter, smarter, better looking, braver and smells wonderful) stuff like that and started enjoying my own personal experience, also it puts more focus on 'The LINE' rather than the grade. If it looks good, climb it, if it feels good, climb it, if it moves well, climb it, if it's fun, climb it.
And so we shall.
But if you really, really, really need that 5.12 A tick, even though it's sharp, loose and total crap, but you are willing to wave that five star 5.11d anyway so that you can save your energy, here is my advice, climb that brilliant 5.11d with a big smile on your face and call it 11d/12a. Because for you, it felt pretty hard. You know what they say – Fake it until you make it. – This tactic will at least buy you time until you do actually climb a 5.12 A and you get to do the best line in the meantime. Now that's grey.